We are in the midst of looking at the ten plagues that God inflicted upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Last week we looked at how each plague was directed against a certain god or number of gods of Egypt. We will continue to see that is the case in Exodus 9.
Before we move on to Exodus 9 and more plagues, let’s pause to step back and look at the larger picture of what is taking place. Yes, these plagues are part of the plan to free the Israelites from slavery. They are also an attack on the false gods of Egypt. But this is also one of many battles between God and Satan. As we know God is the victor at the end of the ages, He is the victor in these battles as well.
We could easily call the Egyptian worship satanic and I believe that all false religions are satanic in nature because they are intended to draw worship away from God. More to the point though, the tactics that Pharaoh uses against the Israelites are the same tactics that Satan has used throughout history and still uses today.
Before the present Pharaoh persecution was used. Persecution started when the Egyptians feared the Israelites and they enslaved them. As they continued to prosper despite oppression persecution was used again in the order to kill all the baby boys. Obviously Satan used this same tactic at the birth of Jesus and he continued to intimidate Christians all over the world in an attempt to keep them from preaching the gospel.
Satan used discouragement effectively on all sides. Pharaoh brought discouragement by refusing to listen to Moses and by increasing the workload of the Israelites. This snowballed as the Israelites turned against Moses and he became more discouraged.
Satan also uses lies and deception to get what he wants today. Pharaoh seems to lie at every opportunity and will say anything to get what he wants. Pharaoh has surrounded himself with deceivers. Paul warns Timothy of such people in 2 Timothy 2:3
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Pharaoh’s magicians are deceivers but Pharaoh isn’t the victim of deception. He wants to be deceived because he wants to be told what he’s already made up his mind to believe. Many times today people only want to hear what will make them feel good, they are not concerned about the truth. This is why many conservatives watch Fox News and liberals watch MSNBC. It is well known that these stations have a conservative and liberal slant respectively. Please note that I’m not saying that it’s wrong to watch either of these stations, just that we all have a natural tendency to want to hear what we already believe. Personally I prefer to watch the Daily Show on Comedy Central because take shots at hypocrisy on both sides while doing nothing to hide the fact that they do have a liberal bias.
When bold tactics such as persecution, discouragement, and lies do not work, Satan turns to his most dangerous tactic, compromise. Obviously compromise is not always bad and it should be sought after in many situations. However when dealing with evil we cannot give up any ground. Any compromise with the devil is a loss for us. Pharaoh used compromise in Exodus 8 as he tried to get the Israelites to worship within Egypt, thinking that this would satisfy them.
It would be easy to rationalize the compromise. God is really concerned about worship, it doesn’t matter where it’s done at. The reality is that it was very unlikely that Pharaoh would have allowed the Israelites to worship as they saw fit within Egypt but even if he had, by giving in to this compromise the Israelites would have given up so much more. They never would have gained the inheritance that God had designated for them in the Promised Land.
When we compromise we not only give into evil and open ourselves up to more temptation but we are likely to lose out on the good things that God has in store for us. Compromise leads to more compromising. Once Satan knows that we’ll compromise once he’ll keep pushing for more compromises.
We will see Pharaoh offer the Israelites more compromises in chapter 10 but for now let’s look at the next number of plagues in Exodus 9.
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” 2 If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, 3 the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle and sheep and goats. 4 But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’”
5 The LORD set a time and said, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this in the land.” 6 And the next day the LORD did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. 7 Pharaoh sent men to investigate and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.
Bulls were among the most sacred animals in Egypt. One of the most popular cults worhip Apis the bull god. Several temples kept live bulls there to be worshipped and at one point in Egypt’s history bulls were even given sacred burials and placed in vaults.
The pervasiveness of bull worship is seen as the Israelites construct a golden calf while waiting for Moses to return from Mt Sinai. Several other gods were depicted as cattle – Ptah, Hathor, Bakus, and Mentu. When Israel constructed their golden calf, it wasn’t to honor just one false god but many. This is why they said in Exodus 32:4
“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
God shows power over all livestock and the gods of Egypt are shown to be powerless to stop the deaths of one of the most sacred animals in Egypt. As with the plague of flies, God makes a distinction between Egypt and the Israelites. Not a single animal belonging to the Israelites died.
God’s protection is complete. He doesn’t protect the Israelites mostly. They don’t receive a softened version of the plague that doesn’t kill as much of the livestock. They are completely spared. Pharaoh investigates and discovers that not a single animal is lost but he still chooses to harden his heart.
8 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. 9 It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land.”
10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on men and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.
There’s a basketball star, Lebron James, who has a pregame ritual with talcum powder. He stands up on the scorer’s table and tosses a handful of powder into the air. As ridiculous and trivial as this may sound to anyone who isn’t a basketball fan, a similar thing was done in Egypt with their idol worship. It was common for the ashes of a sacrifice to be sprinkled in the air above worshippers. Thus who had the ashes land upon them considered it a blessing.
This time the opposite occurs. As the ash descends, festering boils break out on the people and the animals all over the land. Obviously this is unpleasant for all who have to endure the painful boils but once again it strikes at the heart of the Egyptian religious culture.
Egypt was noted in the ancient world for its skill in medicine. This was attributed to their gods who were known to be gods of healing. Once again, this shows their impotence as they are unable to heal the boils that broke out over the people of Egypt. In particular, this is an attack of the god Typhon who was believed to control such diseases
Aside from the plague itself we should note what occurs in verse 12. For the first time, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Up until this point, we have continually seen Pharaoh choose to harden his own heart. Pharaoh had opportunity after opportunity to repent of all that he had done and let the Israelites go. God knew that Pharaoh would not do so but it was Pharaoh’s choice to reject God and harden his heart.
Now Pharaoh has lost the ability to repent. His heart has become so hardened that he will never turn back. It has often been said that there is no sin so great that God can’t forgive it. This is absolutely true. There is a line that a person can cross when they will no longer seek repentance however. Pharaoh has rejected God at every opportunity and he will get no more opportunities. Some people only run out of opportunities at death but God’s will receive more glory by allowing Pharaoh to live and continually witness His power and the impotence of the Egyptian gods. God certainly had the power and the right to strike Pharaoh dead on the spot but instead Pharaoh will be used as a vessel for God’s purposes. God will tell Pharaoh just this
13 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16But I have raised you up[a] for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. 17 You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 18 Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now. 19 Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’”
God instructs Pharaoh that he lives for the sole purpose of His name being proclaimed in all the earth. When it is all said and done, the entire world will know that Egypt has been struck down by God.
20 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. 21 But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field.
God does something different with this plague from the others. Before the plagues fell indiscriminately. It struck every Egyptian and some spared the Israelites. This time the people have a choice. If they believe the word of God and respond to it, they will be spared from this plague. The people have a choice now, will they trust their gods to protect them or will they believe that the God of the Israelites is more powerful and will bring harm upon them?
Apparently some of Pharaoh’s officials had seen enough and they feared the Lord and heeded what Moses said. When it says that they feared the Lord, we shouldn’t take it to mean that they feared Him like we are to fear Him – with reverence. Instead, they were afraid of God. They had seen enough of God’s power and realized that His power was greater than their gods’ to protect them.
22 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt—on men and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.” 23 When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24 hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. 25 Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26 The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.
27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Pray to the LORD, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.”
Obviously this is a massive and dangerous storm that strikes Egypt. We’ve seen some nasty storms that spawn tornadoes and hail but this is worse than any that we have experienced. What makes this storm all the more extraordinary though is that it does not storm in Egypt. Hail is very rare. For that matter, rain is rare. There are entire years in Egypt when there is no rain. The nation survives because of the annual flooding of the Nile river brings the needed water to the area.
Yet again, this is an attack of the Egyptian gods. Shu was the god of the atmosphere while Nut was the sky goddess. Both are powerless to stop the storm or protect anyone from it.
Chapter 9 ends in much the same way that chapter 8 ended. Pharaoh hardens his heart. Even the officials are in on the act. Most likely some of the officials that feared God and brought their things under shelter quickly forget the power of God once the plague is over.
29 Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the LORD’s. 30 But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the LORD God.”
31 (The flax and barley were destroyed, since the barley had headed and the flax was in bloom. 32 The wheat and spelt, however, were not destroyed, because they ripen later.)
33 Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands toward the LORD; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land. 34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. 35 So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the LORD had said through Moses.
Let’s close by bringing things full circle. We know that Satan and his tactics are at work in Egypt. This is what makes Satan take the most delight. Satan delights when people see the power of God at workand they refuse to acknowledge it.
As Christians we are not in the same position as Pharaoh and his officials. We do not need to get on our knees and repent. But we still must be careful to not fall into the same trap. Someone once said that “the greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and get on with their lifestyle.” To put it simply, if you’ve seen the power of God in your life, you better live your life like it.